Sunday, December 23, 2018

the top ten worst hit songs of 2018

So I'm not going to mince words or waste your time here: 2018 was not a good year for the Hot 100. Perhaps not as bad as 2016 given how many songs were outright atrocious that year, but 2018 was not only an eventful and exhausting year, but it was one where the Hot 100 as a singles chart didn't even seem to matter. And yes, success on a manipulated ranking scale like the Hot 100 is always a bit of a shell game that most discerning artists recognize, but on some level we convince ourselves that it matters - you know, like the Grammys.

But here's the funny thing: as much as I've characterized 2018 as the year of the album bomb, where thanks to playlist payola - no jokes anymore, let's call it what it is - an entire album will overrun the Hot 100, the songs rarely last, which means when it comes to making the year-end list you run into a weird split: the streaming hits that cling to relevance just long enough, usually hip-hop and trap, and the pop- and pop-adjacent songs that receive regular radio and sales promotion that hold up long enough to weather the storm. And of course there is some overlap, but I was actually a little surprised how despite streaming hits getting so much media attention, there's still a traditional pop structure that'll get hits on the year-end list. We'll get into the unfortunate side effects of this in the next year-end list, but it is absolutely a shifting ecosystem, and there weren't many who could navigate that storm.

But make no mistake, the ability to have charting success has never been proportional to the talent of the artist, and with trap being an oversaturated mess and most radio hits defaulting to the safest possible options for relevancy in a year where Cumulus and iHeartRadio were on the cusp of bankruptcy, it was a rough year. And while I was more faintly embarrassed about the junk from 2017, 2018's bad stuff is in a different league - and keep in mind this is just the stuff that debuted on the 2018 year-end Hot 100. So let's take out the trash, starting in no particular order with our Dishonourable Mentions...

So I'm not sure about the point where reggaeton acts stopped trying, content with the knowledge there were going to get a billions views regardless - and indeed, this song has 1.4 billion views on YouTube - but I can make the argument it was this. And while I could point to the protracted, tooting synth that's so lazy in its progression I'm surprised Marshmello didn't write it, let's also not ignore the blocky percussion and how bored Nicky Jam and J. Balvin sound on it. Reportedly this is one hit Nicky Jam didn't write himself and it's supposed to just coast on the vibes, but the entire song feels airless, with no atmosphere to cultivate said vibe - instead of feeling effortless, it feels lazy and incredibly grating - next!

Honestly, Maroon 5 is not worth additional words at this point - they're like Panic! At The Disco, a husk of session musicians propping up a frontman who has long ago run out of ideas. Hell, the only element of the mix that seems well-positioned are the vocals, but that draws attention to the lyrics... which are overstuffed with repetition and suspiciously lacking any sort of details surrounding what Adam Levine might have done in this bad relationship, or what he's going to do to change. In other words, it's a cross between 'The Reason' by Hoobastank and Offset's humiliating attempt at a public apology to Cardi B - and in every case, the woman can and should do better.

It's very telling that Lil Wayne is not on this cut, mostly because he decided to release Tha Carter V and start making decent music again - unlike this, which barely pretends to disguise that it's a mugging rip-off of a hit from last year that was only so-so at best. Justin Bieber has rarely looked or sounded more punchable, Quavo is trying and failing to convince us he can blow this girl's mind, and Chance somehow shoved his impressive likability into negative numbers. And when you couple it with a melody comprised of a bassy synth and a chipmunk fragment... look, the title of the song is the easiest punchline, but what I think is more telling is how the entire song was shot on a set of stages instead of somewhere that actually could showcase luxury - to not see through the cheap veneers being thrown up, you'd have to be, well, brainless.

Look, it's usually a bad move for dating couples to put out music celebrating that union - you're tempting fate, especially when it comes to these two who seem to have more cocaine and passive aggression than sense or vocabulary. 'Him & I' is a song that's trying to milk a Bonnie & Clyde vibe, but it misses the fact that neither act has ever had the slightest convincing edge, and when the relationship sputtered out earlier this year, it made this song a humiliating postscript designed for high school Instagram stories trying to look edgy. It's the 'Bad Things' of 2018, except somehow even more nakedly self-absorbed - but just as ruthlessly soulless and mediocre!

It's very easy to give NF some sort of pass, given that in comparison to a guy like G-Eazy he's got tighter flows and something of a distinct lyrical idea in exploring the toxic relationship with his father. And I'll admit I was probably one of those people... until I heard this turd one too many times and realized I was judging it of the basis of nearly every other white male rapper shitting the bed this year. Like with G-Eazy, the problem is a serious lack of detail in the storytelling - a lot of musing surrounding embarrassment and paranoia and a relationship where nobody is getting straight with anything, but what I've hated the most is the hook, because somebody apparently told NF that a blend of chipmunk vocals and X Ambassadors is how you want to sell this. The only reason it's not on the list proper is because NF is competent as an MC - so congratulations, you're the Christian version of Logic who can spew flows for days and yet say so little.

When I first saw the video in its homage to Soul Train, I wanted to throw my computer through a window, because that show was a testament to 70s grooves and passion, and outside of the majority of the rest of Culture II, this has none of either, with a rinky-dink keyboard line that will get stuck behind one of the stiffest trap grooves I've heard all year. And really, going through any Migos song on a lyrical level is pointless, but it's very telling they claim they didn't buy their fame when you know for some of that brand name flexing they got paid, for Offset to mention his vault full of assaults and then hitting a bitch - I know he's referring to other things, it's called lazy word placement - and Takeoff planning to buy his own coffin early. Also, Drake is here trying to mend bridges from when he jacked Migos' style three years ago - yeah, I'll have more to say about him later.

So I think I've been more than forgiving when it comes to trap acts and calling out misogyny, but I think throughout the course of album bombs with Future and entirely too many guest verses, I can comfortably say Juice WRLD is a misogynist. But can I also say he's a pretty shitty and juvenile songwriter too, hitting the Simple Plan-brand of bargain barrel emo cliches surrounding how pretty girls are all evil and plastic? Don't get me wrong, I totally get why he has a teenage fanbase - I also get why all of his fanbase will be faintly embarrassed of him and themselves in two years at most. The only real catharsis I can get out of this is that Sting took the majority of the revenue from this song because of sample clearing issues, but given how I think this guy might have a bit of staying power given how many other emo rappers died over the past few years, it seems like a pretty small price - expect this guy to feature on my list going forward if he has more hits.

So yeah, those all sucked - now onto the list proper!

10. So here's a side frustration as a critic who primarily concerns himself with albums: when we cover pop acts, we often find deep cuts that have a lot of potential even from artists we don't like. And while we can never expect they'll be the lead-off single, by the time you're three or four singles in, you have to hope, right? But more often than not, we get this.

10. 'Bad At Love' by Halsey
Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #27

I feel confident in saying that while Daya might have been the weakest of the 2010s mainstream pop set, Halsey is easily the one I like the least - her aspirations to 'alternative' sounds are always painfully undercooked, she's a songwriter who defines the term 'basic', and all of her music has a smug veneer of ego without the presence, pipes, or charisma to back it up. And while 'Bad At Love' isn't quite the worst thing from hopeless fountain kingdom - it at least has a hook - you can make the same comparison to, say, 'Weak' by AJR, a song operating on the exact same emotional sentiment of trying to glorify underwhelming shittiness but being unable to have any fun with it. No jokes here, she actually responded to a fellow critic on Twitter trying to defend this as playful self-deprecation, which at least with that dumbass key change I could see with AJR. But this is the most by-the-numbers and undercooked "self-aware" framing I've heard in a while - at least when Taylor Swift tries to play the villain she's at least having fun... even if nobody else is. But I can't see anyone having fun with this either: there's no groove, the off-key synth has the consistency of sludge, Halsey's attempts at belting have no power, and her songwriting defaults on plugging space by repeating words - and still winds up utterly incoherent because for as much blame as she tries to throw on exes, she's the one who is self-destructive! Also, it's a bit rich you're dumping girls for doing thin white lines given your antics with G-Eazy, Halsey, but really, given that your primary associations in your career have been him, Machine Gun Kelly, and The Chainsmokers, hypocrisy is a good look for your brand of white bread mediocrity. You could have released 'Strangers', Halsey, I hope Billie Eilish replaces you, next!

9. So yeah, you could make the argument that this was a big year for Drake - but it was also a very bad year and I'd be loathe to not include him a few more times on this list. Right now he's on single number #7 from the double album - this is number #6. And as somebody currently living in the 6... nobody wants it here either.

9. 'Nonstop' by Drake

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #52

This song certainly lives up to its title: it's a persistent migraine that never stops! And it breaks my heart that No I.D. apparently helped produce this, mostly because I question what the hell he even did - the melody is either entirely locked in the bass or in a few spurtling flickers of synth, there's no tone to this besides monotony! And it's not like Drake is spraying any sort of intense wordplay or hard bars - he spends the song sounding like he's pouting, muttering his ad-libs, and lying his ass off with a petulance that would shame the current president! 'Pulling gimmicks because they're too scared to rap', from the guy who never could respond with bars to Pusha-T? The remaining half of that second verse that's not remotely convincing or intimidating? The second verse that's more flexing that adds up to nothing? But really, the most searing indictment of this song comes in the line 'I can hardly take offense' - we'll come back to this, but keep telling yourself that, Drake. In the mean time, this is a boring slog that barely deserves to be called album filler on that bloated corpse otherwise known as Scorpion, and if it wasn't such a tuneless headache it'd be forgotten by everyone - probably still will be, next!

8. I've said this before when making these lists, there are often plenty of bad songs that are released, but to clinch a spot on this list it's often just as relevant to consider what the song might represent. So while this is a terrible song, make no mistake of it, having seen its success in 2018, I hate what it represents so much more.

8. 'Meant To Be' by Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #3

Whether you watch the charts or not, I don't how anyone can listen to 'Meant To Be' - tacked on to the ass-end of Bebe Rexha's crappy debut album Expectations to boost its streaming position - and not see it as a complete systemic failure. Let's not mince words, this is a pop song: whatever guitar accents here are the least important elements of the mix behind the piano, trap percussion, and Florida Georgia Line braying pointless inanities. And when you factor in Bebe Rexha having no distinctive personality which absolutely comes through in the writing, you rapidly realize the only reason this was successful was because pop radio promoters needed something gutless and safe to plug the gap between Halsey and Post Malone. But since Florida Georgia Line are trying to make us all forget about their last non-country album and that collaboration with the Backstreet Boys and they're on this song, it got billed on country playlists, and since Music Row is full of inept bean counters trying to chase a bro-country trend that died three years ago, they put it there too. Hence the story of a studio-managed nothing of a pop song became the longest running #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart and promoted the further marginalization of women in country in favour of pop acts - so if Sarah Shook, Brandy Clark, and the Pistol Annies want to burn Music Row to the ground and salt the earth, I don't think I'm in a mind to complain.

7. So now we've reached the part of my list that'll be deemed 'controversial' - and what's gross is that anyone thinks me placing this song on this list is controversial. And to even explain why this song wound up on the year-end Billboard Hot 100 is slightly nauseating, so yeah, if you thought this was ugly before...

7. 'changes' by XXXTENTACION

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #94

Look, I've said my piece on XXXTENTACION - in my review of ? I was able to interpret and deconstruct his appeal at length, that was it for me, and while I still think that album is misshapen, amateurish, and pretty awful, it's hard to deny that it reflects the intent of the artist. But then he died, and I didn't have any emotions one way or the other - and I still don't; he's gone to whatever comes next, there's no point at being angry at him. But there are two groups of people who I'm angry at: the diehard fans who have continued to relentlessly deny everything he ever did in their attempt to rewrite history, completely ignoring the naked contradiction how it's that very human darkness that made X in any way compelling; and the rapacious bastards in the music industry milking those diehards for all they're worth. And honestly they deserve each other, and I wouldn't even care if I didn't have to cover those embarrassing fragments on Billboard BREAKDOWN and then have to deal with the diehards attempting to gaslight everyone in the comments and really living up to their idol, but let's get some context. Because if you're outside of that toxic feedback loop and any cult of personality, it's an amateurish piano dirge whining about his girl is changing and he doesn't like it. Its appeal was very punk in that anyone could do it, and like most punk it was eaten by the machine for posthumous packages and streaming support, which got it here. Capitalism, ladies and gentlemen - let's move on.

6. Well, that got heavy fast... thank god the next song just sounds atrocious, that makes things a lot easier!

6. 'FRIENDS' by Anne-Marie & Marshmello

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #26

Okay, seriously England, you've already tried shipping us Rita Ora, and you're not fooling anyone by following her with Anne-Marie - they have little-to-no distinct personality, we don't want them; hell, we already have a Bebe Rexha and we don't want her either! So it almost makes perfect sense that Anne-Marie teamed up with Marshmello to produce an anthem to putting people in the friendzone - in other words, one of the most nakedly uncomfortable things to do in any sort of relationship, so why are you trying to celebrate it and spell it out so many damn times? And that discomforting ickiness pervades the entire song - the awkward conversational cadence that's not quite sneering enough to have charisma but just enough to flip my allergic reaction to toxic melodrama, the flat synths, the gutless acoustic line that doesn't fit at all with the trap percussion and makes me wonder what Marshmello is even doing here when there's no drop, and finally, a g-funk synth that's slathered onto the final chorus with no groove or reason. I made the Rita Ora comparison before but the tone of the song overall reminds more of Cher Lloyd's similar brand of teenage toxicity that we got on 'Want U Back', and at least she had a discernible personality - next!

5. So there's a general understanding when it comes to certain types of songs that you don't really hear them on the Hot 100, or at the very least they're very rare. In country you rarely hear songs with a narrative, in hip-hop you don't typically hear a barsfest or a diss track chart - yes, I know with 'Rap Devil' and 'Killshot' we had exceptions, but neither 'Duppy Freestyle' or 'The Story Of Adidon' charted - and in rock... yeah, like we'll get a real rock song anymore. And one of these categories is the posse cut - they were big in the 2000s, especially in crunk and hip-hop, but they nearly always run long and they're rarely more than the sum of their parts. Sadly, they're not exclusive to hip-hop, and it doesn't like everyone got the message...

5. 'Te Bote' by Casper Magico, Nio Garcia, Darell, Nicky Jam, Ozuna & Bad Bunny

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #81

So I'll be very honest: I actually get a little uncomfortable putting reggaeton songs on my worst lists, because I don't speak Spanish and there's a very real chance I'm missing sort of cultural idiosyncrasy that redeems it. Somehow, judging by some of my critic peers in Latin America I don't think that was an issue here, as I don't know who likes this song! Clearly somebody does, like every other reggaeton song it's got 1.4 billion views on YouTube, but I can't imagine why. For one, the song opens up with the autotuned caterwauling of Ozuna playing off dreary pianos and a forgettable beat, and none of it evolves or changes to show potent progression beyond tacking on more mugging condom accidents to bray about kicking some girl to the curb. And here's the thing: I don't mind a good, angry, petty breakup song, but the key to making that work is brevity - you don't want to wallow in being a total dick for seven minutes especially when the production isn't fun or interesting! And that's before you translate the lyrics, and here's a bit of advice: don't. I'd expand upon that, but really, that's giving this thoroughly unpleasant turd more thought than it deserves.

4. This is a song that to understand the depths of its awfulness you need to understand the timing surrounding its release. Because it was a bad song upon the first few listens, but it would only take four days to make it one of the biggest miscalculations of Drake's entire career...

4. 'I'm Upset' by Drake

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #86

The fact that Drake didn't pull this single immediately, that instead he decided to double down and film a music video studded with cameos from Degrassi and beyond, it speaks volumes of the arrogance on display. It would almost be a marvel to behold if the song behind it wasn't one of the worst on the double album and arguably one of the worst of his entire career. Fundamentally, it fails on the basic of terms: the song is about sounding upset, and Drake at best sounds constipated, like that meal at the Cheesecake Factory on 'Child's Play' is unsettling his stomach. And you have to wonder if that fight's sentiment carried into this song, which is all about bragging about not having a big enough price on his head, not paying child support and taking dick pics - and according to his second verse, that's the only thing that gets him respect. And for you to have the nerve, the audacity to interpolate Beyonce here to you dumping this woman... yeah, if there was something that kept me on Pusha-T's side in this whole endeavour, it's this. It's worthless, it's an impressively low bar for Drake and this is coming from a guy who has released 'Started From The Bottom', 'Pop Style', and 'Fake Love' - and yet amazingly, this is in a class of its own. Hey girls who spent their years dancing to 'Nice For What' and 'In My Feelings', this is how Drake really feels about you - just keep that in mind.

3. So given my expletives leveled against this guy on my previous two year-end lists, I can imagine some of you are noting a very specific absence on this year end, the culture vulture otherwise known as Post Malone. But here's the thing: off of beerbongs & bentleys, I got my anger out last year with 'rockstar', which I still hold is the worst song on the album. 'Psycho' didn't bother me and neither did 'Better Now' - hell, 'Candy Paint' might just be among my favourite songs of the year. No, for Post Malone to make this list, he'd have to dig back - but hell, I called it last year.

3. 'I Fall Apart' by Post Malone

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #39

So I saw Post Malone live this year, and he was terrible - even with technical difficulties, he's sloppy on stage. And the pit was even worse, a throng of jeering white boys who threw bottles of piss and groped everything that moved. But what actively got me to leave the venue were the circle pits forming for this song, arguably the worst song on Stoney and Post Malone at his most execrable. He apparently wrote this song when he was a teenager and man, it shows, an incoherent morass of self-loathing and sexism as he calls this girl a 'devil in the form of a whore' - they're called succubi, Post Malone, talk to Uzi and learn some demonology - with some of the most atrocious production of his entire career. The chipmunked fragments, the shredded haze of vocals, the desaturated guitars, a swamped out rubbery beat on the hook, and the sort of howling yodel that sounds like he's passing a kidney stone. But the reason this doesn't work on a fundamental level is that it's supposed to make us feel Post Malone's pain and commiserate - and I can't do that when he's warbling in a very performative way and calling this girl shorty! I thought we learned this lesson with Bieber ten years ago, you don't let white boys use that word, primarily for their own sake because it utterly guts any emotive power in the language and poetry! Want proof of that - if there was emotional power to it, even coked up white boys wouldn't be moshing to it! But speaking of music that speaks exclusively to that set...

2. So I'm sure by this point some of you may have noticed another conspicuous absence on this list, the other big headline-grabbing artist of 2018 who goes by the name Tekashi 6ix9ine and will likely spend a significant amount of the next few years in prison - what he got caught up in is far bigger than the underage sexual acts that damned him in the first place. But if I only look at the music... I get the appeal of a song like 'GUMMO' - it's obnoxious, it's blaring, it's sadistic, but it's the same shock value appeal of an artist like DMX or even Eminem had in the late 90s. And while I rarely like it, I get it... so about the worst thing you could do is feed him to the music industry that will completely misunderstand his one-dimensional appeal for pop crossover...

2. 'FEFE' by 6ix9ine ft. Nicki Minaj & Murda Beatz

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #31

Serious question: besides industry hacks, who wanted this? Who wanted 6ix9ine to showcase his nonexistent 'sensual' side and strip away all the firepower that was his sole redeeming quality? Who wanted to pair it with production from Murda Beatz that's spends it runtime cultivating a sense of oily, creeping dread that fits nothing? And who convinced Nicki Minaj - who spent 2018 doing her best to burn her public image to the ground in spectacular fashion - that the best idea was teaming up with him, with whom she has no chemistry and seems utterly lost at the very bottom of the barrel? And putting aside how the song has no firepower or intensity or any coherent mood besides forcing someone to imagine a sexual encounter nobody sane could find appealing, the lyrics are complete garbage, between the facts that this flow was jacked from another rapper, 6ix9ine follows in the Halsey route of repeating words to fill up space and then playing 'eenie meenie minie moe' to kick girls to the curb, and Nicki Minaj rapping about the brand of chips she gets after she doesn't climax with any of these guys - kind of contradicts the super soaker 6ix9ine was implying, but I'm not surprised. But the disconnected chips reference reminds me a lot of when Eminem did the same on 'That's All She Wrote' seven years ago before he would go to follow many of her same mistakes this year with only slightly less humiliating results as a desperately insecure artist who sees themselves getting replaced and fumbles any attempt to stop it. But even then, I get the impression Nicki's still embarrassed by this one, for as quickly as it was tacked on Queen, it was taken off of the deluxe rerelease. And as for those who want more from 6ix9ine... hate to break it to you, teenage white boys, your Soundcloud waifu is going away for a long time. Good riddance.

1. Nobody will be surprised by my number one pick. You all heard me rant about it on Billboard BREAKDOWN at length and given how many other lists this will make, I don't think there's anything I can say that will top what was already said. But before I try to put this to bed and smother it with all the pillows, I want to make this observation: to this day, there are people who will place Chris Brown as a 'king of R&B', despite the fact that I'd give failing grades to over half of his albums and he has at least three legit atrocities to his name just in bodies of music. But even with all of that, if there was something to thoroughly disqualify him - forever - it'd be this.

1. 'Freaky Friday' by Lil Dicky ft. Chris Brown

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Position: #55

The most appropriate words to describe this thing is gaslighting disguised as a really bad joke. It's a song that serves no larger purpose other than to pave over the annals of Chris Brown's string of unapologetic failures and past transgressions and become an anthem for his self-esteem. It's self-deprecation with no punchline that reduces the black experience to the ability to say the 'n-word' and a fascination with genitalia that starts juvenile and ends with Lil Dicky in the body of Kendall Jenner exploring her body without her mind's consent. And here's the thing: if it's just a joke song that somehow required three producers and ten writers to assemble, it's a failure because there's no coherent punchline. Is it that Lil Dicky is an oblivious, self-serving culture vulture who charitably has two jokes? We already knew the answer to that, we didn't need DJ Mustard recycling leftovers from 2014 to back it up! Is it that Chris Brown... apparently is Chris Brown? Well, we all knew that too, even as he continues to sing through layers of grating autotune and multi-tracking? Is it that Ed Sheeran and Kendall Jenner have no dignity? Well, we knew that from 'End Game' off of reputation and Kendall's a Kardashian who did that Pepsi ad which is arguably funnier than anything Lil Dicky has ever written! Is it that saying the word 'vagina' is funny when it comes from someone who can't sing before the 'inner workings' of such is 'explored'? Yeah, for the year of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation and what felt like a societal backlash towards the #MeToo movement - especially in pop music given who was elevated - it's very telling that wound up in this song cowritten by a man who put Rihanna in the hospital in 2009. And I got backlash to saying all this and more when I covered this at length earlier this year, which is very indicative of the culture that thinks this is actually funny. And I won't claim to have the best taste in anything, but for a song that really feels emblematic of the most tired, humiliating, unfunny, and gross elements of 2018, at least I'm not stuck defending this. Worst hit song of 2018, as if it was even a contest, and right now my only bit of catharsis comes in the two main artists having received no success since - let's keep it that way.

1 comment:

  1. Saw it coming all the way that Chris Brown was gonna be Number 1.

    It's such an unfunny take on the popular film Freaky Friday.

    As for Halsey, i always found her singles fairly forgettable, so i was not surprised that Bad At Love ended up on the charts. However, i can definitely say that Without Me is pretty solid.

    As for Bebe Rexha, i couldn't agree more. The sad thing however around her is that she is actually an interesting vocalist but doesn't make the right music to showcast those vocals and instead makes the same tacky and crappy trap pop nonsense.